Judges 10: Killer culture

Judges 10:6-16 – 6 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. 7 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, 8 and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9 And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. 10 And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” 11 And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. 14 Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” 15 And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.


I want to start by asking this question – who loves hot dogs? I personally love hotdogs, be it sausage sizzle, corn dog or just fried hot dog with rice. The only problem with hot dogs is and spoiler alert – they are not made from real meat.  A friend of mine works in a food tech company and he said after he went to a hot dog factory, he never wants to eat hot dogs ever again because he has seen how hot dogs are made. You take a little bit of meat, a little bit of something else, a little bit of that and a little bit of this and voila, you get a hot dog. You will never know what goes inside a hot dog, but one thing we can be sure of is that it is not 100% meat. I still love hot dogs though. But have you ever heard the term hot dog faith?


I would love to take credit for this because it is so good and true, but I heard it from JD Greear. He said and I quote, “Some people build their faith like a cheap hotdog. They take a little of this and a little bit of that and mix it with something else and it results in something you can hardly call Christianity.” This is what happened in our passage today, as we learn about the next judge, Jephthah and we will see how his faith has a little bit of this and that, how it unfolded for him and what we can learn from this story.


4 points: the idolatrous nation, the unlikely saviour, the killer within and the non-negotiable redemption


The Idolatrous Nation


Even though Jephthah’s name is first mentioned in chapter 11, Jephthah’s story begins from chapter 10:6. And if you have been following the series on the book of Judges, we are not surprised that Israel messed up once again. Jephthah’s story began with the famous phrase, “The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” So, we start the cycle all over again, but this time is different. Instead of glossing over Israel’s sins, now it was mentioned specifically what they did, they worshiped 7 gods – the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And in case it is not clear enough, the writer went on and said  they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.


In the previous chapter, the writer let us know that Israel messed up, but this time what the writer is saying is they really really messed up. And what’s interesting is that all the gods that are mentioned here are the idols of the nations that Israel defeated. How ironic is it that God gave them judges to defeat these nations and instead of worshiping God for giving them the victory, they went and worshiped these nations’ gods. Here’s the thing right, Israel was not under duress to worship these gods. The pagan nations did not have power over Israel and forced them to serve their gods. On the contrary, Israel had all the power as they defeated these nations and yet instead of getting rid of all these other gods, they assimilated with them and worshiped their gods. And God sold them to the very nations whose god they worshiped, they were oppressed and brought to slavery once again.


And God wasn’t so quick to save Israel now. Their cry for help no longer felt genuine, but it felt more like a routine. Ah I am in trouble; I know who will always save me – God. They took God for granted. They did not seek God for God, but they only wanted God to save them. Israel had not really repented from their sins, they were merely sorry for the consequences of their sins, namely the slavery and oppression. Instead of repented from their sins and behold God, they kept going in a circle. They turned from one idol to another. Keller said that it is possible to turn from idolatry in an idolatrous way and this is what they are doing. They treated God like one of their idols. This is how you treat an idol: you know if you do the right thing, say the right word, make the right sacrifices, surely gods will do the things that we ask them for. They put God in a string hoping that by saying the right word and doing the right thing, now He would save them.


But I love what God did next. Israel finally got it and put away their other gods. We could only hope this time is for real. They got rid of their gods and said do to them whatever God thought they deserved. And the bible says God became impatient over the misery of Israel. Church, this is the kind of God that we serve. He is full of compassion. Yes, God was angry at Israel for worshiping other gods and sold them to slavery, but He is also the God who ached for His people when He saw how they suffered. It is as if he cannot stand to see his people—even his sinful people—crushed. In all their affliction he is afflicted, we see God’s heart for His people.


Do you see God’s heart for you even when we choose to worship other things than God?  Do we let the culture around us influence how we see God? Do we see God for God or do we treat Him as an idol? Of course, we don’t say it out loud, but deep in our hearts, we string God along and think that He must give me what we want if only we play our Christianity card right. Surely, if I serve a lot, if I attend all the discipleship, God will give me my spouse. Surely if I read my bible every day, God will give me the promotion that I deserve. Surely if I give to the poor and spend my time with the less fortunate, my kids will grow up okay. Surely surely surely if I do this then God will give me this. We secretly dictate God and not treat Him as God. We treat God as a puppet to give us what we desire, as an idol to give what we want. Our prayer tonight is even when our culture today sees God as someone useful, we will stand firm in our faith and see God as beautiful. May we put God in the right place in our heart.


We see what happened in the background before Jephthah was chosen. Israel was one chaotic idolatrous nation. They loved God, but they also loved their other gods. They didn’t stand firm in their faith, but instead they chose to be formed and believed other beliefs as well. Now they came in repentance before God and God sent deliverance through an unlikely saviour, Jephthah.


The Unlikely Saviour


Judges 10:17-18


17 Then the Ammonites were called to arms, and they encamped in Gilead. And the people of Israel came together, and they encamped at Mizpah. 18 And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said one to another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”


So this is what happened after Israel put away their other gods and God had compassion on them seeing their suffering. The Ammonites had oppressed them for 18 years and now they encamped in Gilead ready to strike Israel. So, the leaders of Israel came together in Mizpah including the leaders of the people of Gilead, they didn’t want to surrender, they wanted to fight the Ammonites, but the problem was no one wanted to be the leader. Then we move to the POV of introducing this man by the name of Jephthah.


11 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2 And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.


From the first 3 verses in chapter 11, we gather this information of Jephthah:

  1. He was a mighty warrior
  2. He was the son of a prostitute
  3. He was hated and drove out of Gilead
  4. He lived in the land of Tob with worthless fellows.

The only reason the people hated Jephthah was because he was a son of a prostitute, so it is not something that he did, but something that was done towards him. Don’t you feel sorry for Jephthah? He was hated, made an outcast and he lost his inheritance  for being born to a prostitute, something he had no control over. After he was driven out of the land of Gilead, he found a place in the land of Tob. Commentaries believe that the worthless fellows that the bible refers to in verse 3 were a bunch of criminals. So Jephthah went from a mighty warrior, to an outcast from a broken family to a criminal boss. That’s Jephthah, the unlikely saviour who would save Israel from the hands of the Ammonites with a background story which was less than impressive.


After introducing Jepthah, the writer now  went back to the leaders of Gilead again.


4 After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5 And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.” 7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” 8 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.


The leaders of Gilead remembered there was a mighty warrior that they hated. So Jephthah was an unlikely, and likely choice to lead Israel to this war. The leaders of Gilead had to eat humble pie and turned to a person who they had rejected and asked for his help.  We can see that the people of Gilead didn’t come to Jephthah for him, but they were out of options and they just needed someone to fill the gap because they wanted to fight the Ammonites. They just needed someone to do it for them.


Isn’t this quite similar to how the Israelites approach God in the beginning of this story? They didn’t really want God for God, they only wanted God to save them from oppression. The Israelites didn’t want Jephthah for Jephthah, but they only wanted him to save them from the Ammonites. They cried out for help because they ran out of options, they had no one to turn to. The people of Israel came to God and Jephthah out of convenience. And Jephthah knew that and he was a bit skeptical of the leaders as he should. After making sure that he would be the head and leader over Gilead, Jephthah finally agreed to lead them into war with the Ammonites.


Jephthah’s calling was unlike others that we have seen so far. Jephthah did not simply rise to be the judge despite his rejection and suffering. He was fitted for his role through his background.  Because of the hardship that Jephthah had gone through, it influenced how he responded to a particular situation. We will see how he responded to the threat from the king of Ammonites and later, the Ephramites as well.


But where was God in Jephthah’s story? Was Jephthah  really God’s choice to lead His people to war against the Ammonites? In other stories, we see the phrase ‘God raised up a judge’ but we didn’t see that phrase in Jephthah’s story. And yet, God is still present in this story. In the previous stories, we see how God took an active role in raising the judges, but in this one, God was passive. He used the pressure from Ammonites and the leaders of Gilead to appoint Jephthah.  One of the commentaries put it this way:


The Lord who follows rebellion with retribution, and then repentance with rescue, is in control of all that takes place between, and the call of Jephthah, though more indirect than those of other judges, is no less divine.


Just as God used Ehud who was left handed, Deborah, Barak, Jael and Gideon with his 300, God was about to do something unexpected through Jephthah. But isn’t Jephthah’s story your story and my story of how God calls His people?  God’s calling is unique to every individual, no stories are the same. My sister and I were called by God at around the same time in two completely different ways. I remembered one night she said I wish I had a conversion story to tell like you and there I was thinking, I wish my story was as beautiful as hers that God would spare me from all the pain and sufferings. But that conversation made me realise that no story is better than the other. Everyone has their own story and God is working through each story. Your family, your background, what we did or what was done to us will never disqualify us to be called by God.


Let’s go back to the story, so Jephthah agreed to be the leader of Gilead to fight against Ammonites. In a normal story, the judge prepared his people to go to battle with the enemy, but as we have established before – Jephthah was an unlikely saviour and his strategy was unlike others as well. Let’s read verse 12-13:


12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” 13 And the king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel on coming up from Egypt took away my land, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.”


The first order of action for Jephthah was not to attack, but to write. Jephthah wrote a message to the king of ammonites asking why he wanted to attack Israel in the land of Gilead which then he replied because he believed that the land was his and Israel took it from the Ammonites, and he wanted it back. So Jephthah replied at length to the king of Ammonites. Jephthah had three main points. First one:


14 Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites 15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, 16 but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let us pass through your land,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. And they sent also to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh.


18 “Then they journeyed through the wilderness and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab and arrived on the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. 19 Israel then sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, ‘Please let us pass through your land to our country,’ 20 but Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory, so Sihon gathered all his people together and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21 And the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. So Israel took possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 And they took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan.


He started with the historical argument that Israel won the battle against Sihon so the land was rightfully Israel’s and never belonged to the Ammonites. Then he moved to his second argument:


23 So then the Lord, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them? 24 Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess.


Then he moved to the theological argument. His assumption was based on an assumption common to all the peoples of the ancient Near East. The Lord, God of Israel, gave them the land of Amorites by enabling them to defeat Sihon and the Ammonites would do the same if their god did the same thing. And this is his last argument:


25 Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever contend against Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? 26 While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did you not deliver them within that time? 27 I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The Lord, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.” 28 But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him.


Jephthah said that no one ever contended the land before, so why bother now? But the king of Ammonites didn’t care about Jephthah’s explanation, he just wanted the land back. So Jephthah’s unlikely attempt to negotiate with the Ammonites failed which leads us to the next part of the story.


The Killer Within

Thanks Stacey, now let’s take a look at what happens after the Ammonites didn’t listen to Jephthah.

29 Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33 And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” 36 And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” 37 So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. 39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.”  What a tragedy! What should’ve been a story about Israel’s triumphant deliverance from its oppressors became one about a father’s heartbreak and sorrow.  Why did Jephthah have to make such an unnecessary vow? Verse 29 even says that “the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah”.  God was with Jephthah, and it didn’t matter who or what was against them.  His victory was guaranteed, with or without his vow to God. 

But before we go any further it’s important to understand what Jephthah did with his daughter.  There are two main arguments within commentary circles, one – Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter, or two – Jephthah offered her up for a lifetime of temple service as a virgin.  Here’s why it’s likely not to be the temple service argument, one – the bible doesn’t prescribe women serving in the temple to be virgins, and two – if she was sent to serve the temple for life, why would she need to weep for her virginity at the start when she had her whole life to mourn?  It’s because Jephthah does as the bible explicitly says, he “did with her according to his vow”.  He offered her as a human sacrifice.  He murdered his own daughter.  How savage and cruel is that.  Parents, can you imagine the sheer grief and agony of losing a child or even to lose your child by your own hands?  Why did Jephthah do such a detestable thing? After all Israel had access to the scriptures that say that human sacrifice was an “abominable thing” that “the Lord hates”.  Why? It is because Jephthah was the product of his culture at the time.

See, as Israel was surrounded by nations that practised violent rituals to satisfy the different gods of the region, like child sacrifice was to satisfy the god, Chemosh, they slowly became accustomed to such practices.  The more they tolerated the violence around them, the more de-sensitised they became to the violence.  Do you see the problem? Their constant exposure to such culture of violence began to influence and draw them to do the very thing they never thought of doing before.  Their hearts were corrupted without them even knowing.  What God saw as immoral sin, Jephthah saw as rightful worship.  Church pay attention, who or what we surround ourselves with plays a big part in what we believe in today, whether in church or outside church.  Yes, it may not be child sacrifice in our time, but what does our 21st century culture say should be important for us? Me, myself and I – I am the god of my life and my satisfaction is above everything else.  And this is a wakeup call for us who are Christians because we may just begin to tolerate and endorse what God sees as sin.  You know not to store up earthly treasures, but culture says the more money you have the more successful you are.  You know to remain pure until marriage, but culture says sex before marriage makes no difference.  You know to remain faithful to your spouse, but culture says life’s short, have an affair.  You know there is only male and female, but culture says be who you want to be.  Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying the solution should then just to isolate yourself from the world.  What I’m saying is when we do go out into the world, be watchful so that you don’t become like the world. 

And why Jephthah made the unnecessary vow reveals just how much his culture had warped his worship of God.  In those days it was a standard belief that you can get a god’s favour based on the sacrifice you give.  So the very moment Jephthah’s unsure that he’ll win the war against the Ammonites, do you know what he does?  He tries to manipulate God the same way he manipulated the elders.  He says “God, if you let me win this war and let me come home safely, then I’ll give you my offering”.  Even though Jephthah believed God, he also believed that he still needed to sacrifice something to please GodBut before we quickly shake our heads and dismiss Jephthah, let me put this to you.  Isn’t what Jephthah did just a reflection of our own hearts?  Yes, we may know many truths about God, that He is sovereign, in control and that He is good, yet the moment we feel like we’re losing control of our finances, our career being at a dead end, our relationships beginning to break down, our health or parent’s health seems to be slipping away or even life milestones not happening as planned, don’t we find it so hard to also believe such truths about God? I know this is very much my own heart.  We put aside the worship God deserves and choose to negotiate with God instead.  Rather than saying “God I want you no matter… this or that happening”, our prayers become empty and are full of “ifs”, “God, if you would do this” “God, if you would do that”, “then I’ll do this” “then I’ll be able to do that”.  Friends, like Jephthah, we would’ve also started to believe the worldly lie that for God to be for us, we need to do something first.  This goes to show just how dangerous it is when we have what Stacey said earlier, hotdog faith.  A faith that has a little bit of truth and a whole lot of other things.  And that’s not the end, culture doesn’t just affect our relationship with God, it also affects our relationships with our brothers and sisters. 

12 The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire.” 2 And Jephthah said to them, “I and my people had a great dispute with the Ammonites, and when I called you, you did not save me from their hand. 3 And when I saw that you would not save me, I took my life in my hand and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?”  4 Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5 And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” 6 they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.”  Jephthah is now confronted by his own tribal brothers, Ephraim! They wanted nothing more than to just kill him and destroy everything that he has left.  For Ephraim, what was far more important than thanking God for their shared deliverance over the common enemy or comforting a brother for his tragic loss, was that they didn’t get any recognition in the victory over the enemy.  Jephthah and Gilead were wrongfully branded “fugitives of Ephraim”.  Though at this point you expect Jephthah to have learnt his lessons right? If God was the one who dealt with the Ammonites who wrongfully came up against Israel, it should also be God who deals with Ephraim who wrongfully come up to Gilead.  Seems straight forward.  But pride meets pride and civil war breaks out.  Church do you see what’s happened? Jephthah not only fails in how he relates to God, but also fails in how to properly relate to his brothers.  Yes, Ephraim was in the wrong, but rather than bringing the matter before God or seeking to resolve the matter peacefully as he did with the Ammonites, he decides to slaughter 42,000 of his brothers.  He let the violent culture of the time also dictate and drive his relationship with others.  And the thing is, we’re not immune to such cultural norms too.  I mean just take a look at what’s #1 on Netflix for the last couple months, ‘Beef’! When you’ve got ‘beef’ with someone, you’ll feel better if you just one up them at their own game, or the Glory, which tells us revenge is sweet.  So in knowing this, what has been our response when a brother has wronged us? What do we do when we find out a sister has done something sinful? Don’t we avoid speaking to them altogether or even making eye contact with them at church? Perhaps we exclude them, gossip and slander them to others to make ourselves feel better. Or maybe, we’re hoping that they would just leave and never come back.  Most of the time these things happen without us even realising.  And let me tell you, that such thoughts are enough for us to have killed our brothers and sisters in our hearts over and over again.  Tim Keller puts it this way, “If we are not deliberately thinking about our culture and our context, we will be conformed to it without ever knowing it is happening”.  We need to take the warnings from the passage very seriously, because if we’re not careful it’ll only be a matter of time before our culture will not only affect our vertical relationship with God, but also destroy our horizontal relationships with one another within the church.

And what happens at the end? That brings me to our last point.

The Non-Negotiable Redemption

7 Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in his city in Gilead.

Well, that was the end of Jephthah’s story.  Jephthah died.  But doesn’t the story feel incomplete? Yeah it had an introduction that would’ve made for an awesome movie, how an outcast was brought back in to rescue the very people that rejected him, but what we got at the end was no happy ending, but one that was full of death and destruction.

But church get this, Jephthah is not the main character of our story, God is the main character. He was present in Jephthah’s story from the beginning and beyond.  At the start, when Israel abandoned God and made a deal with Jephthah to save them, God was “witness” to their private conversation and when Jephthah became ruler of Gilead, it happened “before the Lord”.  When Jephthah in his unbelief tried to negotiate with God for victory, God had already decided to give his enemies “into his hand”.  And when it seemed like all that was left in Israel after Jephthah was grief and lament, God raised our next 3 minor judges, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon.

8 After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he gave in marriage outside his clan, and thirty daughters he brought in from outside for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.

11 After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel, and he judged Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.

13 After him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys, and he judged Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.”

Now while we don’t see much of the 3 minor judges’ lives, we see much of God working behind the scenes to restore what Israel had lost.  Yes, Jephthah delivered Israel, but his deliverance was not perfect.  What overshadowed his victory was murder, a massacre, and the breakdown of relationship between the tribes of Israel.  But see what God does through Ibzan, Elon and Abdon.  He blessed Israel with 25 years of peace and prosperity, numerous children, marriages between the different tribes of Israel and even raised a leader from where? Ephraim! How faithful and merciful is God to His people!

But just like Jephthah’s imperfect deliverance, this restoration had an expiry date.  Each judge died and it wouldn’t be long until Israel started to again be influenced by the pagan beliefs and practices surrounding them.  In fact, you only need to read the first sentence of the next chapter to see that they rejected God again.  Church, do you know what Israel really needed?  It wasn’t more children, more marriages, or even a longer period of peace and prosperity.  What they needed was a better Jephthah to rescue them from what was truly broken, their sinful hearts.  It was because of their unbelief that they found themselves in the same cycle over and over again.   

And here’s the good news for us today.  There is a better Jephthah, and that person is Jesus.  Jesus gives us the confidence and the reason to put our complete faith in him.  How? Because like Jephthah, Jesus was also on a mission of redemption.  He was rejected by the world, the religious elders, and even by those he called brothers, his closest disciples.  In his ministry, many people came to Jesus only to use him for their own benefit or to make a case against him.  And though Jesus did no wrong and committed no sin he was wrongly branded a sinner and falsely accused as a blasphemer by the very people he came to save.  But what does Jesus do? Jesus does the exact opposite of Jephthah.  Unlike Jephthah, his mission of redemption was non-negotiable. Jesus chooses to show compassion, kindness, and forgiveness when the more fitting thing to do was punish all those who wronged him.  And even though Jesus knew the cost of loving an undeserving people was to die in the most painful and shameful way possible, he remained faithful and steadfast in his obedience to God the Father because, as John writes, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God”.  Yes the path set for him was full of unbearable suffering, but he knew that his victory was guaranteed by his father in Heaven.  And it was upon the cross that we see all these things take place.  Jesus brought to completion the perfect deliverance Jephthah could not deliver, a transformation of the sinner’s heart.  Because of our unbelief and rebellion, because we chose to listen to the culture of this world, we were the ones who deserved to be eternally abandoned and condemned by God, and there was nothing that we could do or offer to change that.  But Jesus in his love for us took our place of condemnation and bore all of God’s divine wrath on our behalf.  Jesus was the perfect sacrifice that we could never provide or could ever be.  Because like Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, Jesus died, but unlike them Jesus rose again in victory.  So now, when we look to Jesus and put our faith in him, we won’t find a reason to doubt God ever again.  For it is by our faith in Christ that we also experience and get to know the supreme love of God.  Jesus’ confidence in God the Father became our confidence, his righteousness became our righteousness, and his victory became our guaranteed victory. 

So now when we face struggles, pain or uncertainty in the world, we have the assurance that God will never abandon us and that He is the one that enables us to get through our suffering.  And when the world rejects, abuses or wrongly accuses us, we have the comfort in knowing that our identity is secured in Christ and that we are eternally loved by God. 

And to conclude, Stace and I just want to say that if there’s any of you here tonight that have yet to put your faith in Christ, and deep down there’s just something telling you to consider the good news that we just heard.  We deeply move and plead that you act on that conviction to look to Christ and put your faith in him as your personal Lord and saviour.  Because like in tonight’s story, there will come a time when all that will be left of this wicked and evil world is eternal death and destruction.  So take the warning and don’t delay coming to him today.

Let’s pray.



Discussion questions:


  1. What struck you the most from this sermon?
  2. What is a “hot dog faith”? Can you give some examples of “hot dog faith” in our context?
  3. Why is Jephthah an unlikely saviour? What does this tell us about the way God works?
  4. Give some practical applications on how to not be conformed to our culture.
  5. Explain the difference between Jephthah’s salvation and Jesus’ salvation and why it matters.
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